In Short: A warm welcome from Rocco awaits you when you visit Cucina Espresso in Concord. Once he has your order he will hand off the ticket to Carlo in the kitchen, who will then apply technique and create flavourful and beautifully presented plates of food that draws on his Italian heritage. My tip is, your orders has to include the breakfast arancini. You will be surprised and delighted.
Cucina Espresso is located on Majors Bay Road which has a village type atmosphere. It’s no newcomer with a reputation of serving a contemporary take on Italian classics for just over 8 years. Chef Carlo runs the kitchen and his brother Rocca marshals the troops out front. It’s a family run business and it really shows in the warmth from our arrival right through to the end of the meal.
Glancing at the menu may lull into a sense of thinking that this is just another standard Italian breakfast menu. Trust me, it is anything but, because like us, you will be be blown away when the food arrives. Exhibit A of all is not what it seems is the Breakfast Arancini. Delicious rice, seasoned, shaped and deep fried to a crispy golden brown on the outside. This is just about where the resemblance to a traditional Arancini ends. Chef Carlo puts his spin on this traditional Italian dish by including a soft poached egg on the inside of the arancini. Think scotched egg but the meat outside is replaced by arancini rice infused with porcini truffle and mixed mushroom. When I cut into golden Arancini ball decorated with a sprig of basil on the top, the soft runny yolk centre oozed out, creating an extra rich sauce that blends perfectly with the truffle porcini sauce, and delivers mouthfuls filled with earthy mushroom flavour. Bits of bacon don’t go astray an add a sweet and salty note to the sauce. The end product is a dish that retains all the traditional flavours and feels of a traditional Arancini rice ball with new elements that elevates the classic dish to the next level. There is only a limited number of portions of it each day though, so get on it straight away, just in case!
A meal at a stellar Italian cafe cannot really proceed until good coffee has been consumed. At Cucina Espresso, the team draw on one of Sydney’s and our favourite roaster, Little Marionette out of St Peters. I sampled a Piccolo, a demitasse that packs a punch. I enjoyed the full bodied flavour that snapped me out of a Sunday lethargy. A dash of milk adds to the creamy and silky texture, yet the coffee flavour while strong as is the case with a piccolo, wasn’t too acidic or bitter. As with the food, the coffee is excellently crafted as well!
If you think of Italian salads, one of the classics is the Caprese salad, which celebrates fresh seasonal produce like tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Cucina Espresso’s Summer Uovo Caprese like the arancini is enhanced with a bit of culinary genius. Baked eggs (hence the name Uovo as Uovo means eggs in Italian) served with Mexican garlic, chilli and the final twist, avocado with some fresh lemon zest and you have a meal that is summery light, refreshing yet full of flavour and definitely satisfying . The Summer Uovo Caprese also comes with a side portion of toasted Italian bread that added a crusty texture and yet is perfect for mopping up the egg and olive oil dressing.
For a special pasta treat, we would highly recommend the Spaghettini al Gamberetti e Pinoli from Cucina Espresso’s lunch pasta menu. The name Spaghettini al Gamberetti e Pinoli simply means thin spaghetti with prawns and pine nuts in Italian. Generous pieces of plump juicy prawns (Gamberetti) sits on the perimeter of the plate while perfectly cooked al dente Spaghettini (thin spaghetti) is tossed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chilli, parsley and roasted pine nut (pinoli in Italian), finished with lemon zest that freshens up the dish. This dish does have a light element of heat from the chilli which gradually creeps up on you as you tuck into it. The heat though, is at the right level, and will please even those with a low level of heat tolerance!
As with any Italian meal (or any meal, for that matter!), no meal is complete without dessert. Pancake is one of those items that is so versatile, you can have it as a main or dessert, sweet or savoury. Cucina Espresso’s Ricotta pancakes is one of my favourite items on their menu as they are light without being too heavy on the egg flavours. Adding ricotta to the pancake batter gives it a light element and adds a different dimension to the pancake. You don’t taste the cheese flavour but there is no mistaking how fluffy and light the pancakes are by the height and size of the pancakes served on the plate. You top 2 super fluffy pieces of pancake and crown it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzles of maple syrup served on the side, and you have your breakfast of champions which doubles as a dessert. The pancake batter is made in-house and has the right level of sweetness and every element just works together in this pancake dish.
We rolled out of Cucina Espresso literally, and was delighted by an afternoon of stellar cooking and equally warm service. Little wonder that on the weekends that this cafe on Majors Bay Road in Concord is coveted by locals and visitors. We cannot wait to return to try more of their creations.